​5 Middle School Challenges Moms Need to Prepare for Now

mom helping her daughter as she goes off to schoolBack to school season is stressful enough. But when your kid is ready to start middle school, you can take that stress and dial it up to 11. But while it's true that the social and academic challenges -- often stemming from that awkward transition to adolescence -- that arise in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade can be doozies for kids and parents alike, it doesn't have to be something to bite our nails over!

"Most moms will say they're dreading middle school for their kid," notes Michelle Icard, author of Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years. "But that nervousness and the language that parents are using around their kids about middle school creates a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Don't get caught up in the vicious cycle -- here's what you need to do now to be ready to tackle some of the biggest bumps in the road your child may face in the hallways over the next few years:

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middle school prep guide for moms

1. Bullying: Teasing, taunting, and of course bullying -- which Icard defines as "someone repeatedly using his power (social or physical) to degrade, harass, or humiliate someone else" -- run rampant in middle school. No wonder parents are nervous their child might become a bully's target.

But making a clear distinction between general mistreatment and bullying is important prep work for parents of middle schoolers. "Kids and adults need to understand the difference, so that we can effectively help kids respond to both situations," she explains.  

2. Mean girls: This term is so ubiquitous that it's the name of a cult classic film that will continue to have social significance, because girls continue to "go bad" on one another -- beginning in middle school. But clique-y behavior that often leaves girls out in the cold doesn't begin maliciously, explains Icard. "One of the ways girls discover who they are in middle school is by trying on new friends and new groups of friends, and some of the mean girl stuff that we see -- girls turning their backs on each another, and excluding other girls and making other girls social targets -- comes out of that," she says. "What starts out as a really nice thing can become relational aggression, which is when girls target one another's relationships as a way of getting at one another."

The best way for parents to prepare for this possible bump in the road? "Moms can talk to their daughters ahead of time and say, 'Hey, in middle school, people are going to be trying all sorts of new things, and one of those is friendships. Sometimes really good friendships end in middle school, and sometimes girls can be mean to one another as they're trying to figure all of this out,'" Icard advises.

Simply giving your daughter a heads-up could make it easier to cope if it does happen, as Icard notes half of the battle for kids is knowing that it might happen. "The other thing is for moms to set a safe place for daughters to come talk to them, and having a place to come and express your feelings around that is really important," Icard says.

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3. Dating: There may come a time when your child is "going out" with another child. When kids are only 12 or even 13, the idea of dating already can certainly throw a parent for a loop, but there isn't time to wring your hands. You need to be ready.

"Parents need to have a serious, honest self-examined look inside to discover where they stand on the issues of their kids dating and engaging in teen sex," warns child and family psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child. "We must not fear taking a clear stand with our kids on our expectations of what we believe is best for them. You can decide whether you feel comfortable with your teen going to the mall with a group of his or her peers. Independence should be earned with demonstration of consistently responsible behavior."

Icard also recommends parents discuss early on with their middle schooler what "going out" is defined as, so you're on the same page.

4. Pressure to do drugs: If the idea of your kid being offered drugs or being around peers who are experimenting with drugs has you on edge, you're not alone. But preparing for this potential hurdle can be as easy as establishing open, honest lines of communication with your middle schooler, says Walfish.

"This is the foundation for your kids talking with you about their worries, questions, concerns, and fears," she explains. "Keep talking with and listening to your kids. Talking is the glue that holds relationships together." And it can also ensure your child trusts you enough to open up about peers' -- or their own -- encounters with drugs.

5.  Extracurriculars: How can joining the band or going out for a sport be a "problem"? You'd be surprised by the hurdles kids can encounter when they first get a chance to join a school activity. You may have set ideas in mind for what groups or activities you'd like your child to try, but they may be intrigued by something else entirely or they don't make the team you expected was a given. Preparation can be as simple as managing expectations.

"Your kids will likely try their best and try out for some things they may not get. You need to help them be prepared for that reality," says Walfish. "You want to help your kids keep their expectations, and yours, in check." She also advises sitting down with your child before they choose the activities they want to try out for. "Figure out together where your kid's passions lie," Walfish advises.

How are you preparing yourself -- and your child -- for middle school?

 

Images via iStock.com/Waverunner & © iStock.com/DaydreamsGirl

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